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Volume 24: debated on Tuesday 18 May 1982

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 18 May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

During the day, will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that ridding the Falkland Islands of all Argentine troops is not only the main objective of her Government—backed up by the overwhelming support of the British people—but is seen by millions beyond our shores as an objective that is fundamental to the prospects for international law and order and essential to the security and independence of all small sovereign States—the very point recently made by no less a person that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth?

I warmly endorse what my hon. Friend has said. Our objective in the South Atlantic is not only to ensure that the Argentine troops withdraw from the Falklands but to uphold international law and to see that territorial boundaries are not, and cannot be, changed by force.

Does the Prime Minister agree that matters cannot be left quite where they were at the end of last Thursday's debate and that several important questions should be clarified in debate in the House? I refer, for example, to the questions put by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) about the nature of the Peruvian terms and some of the possibilities that were put forward. There are also questions about how far the Argentine Government may have moved towards accepting at any rate two of the requirements that the Government have laid down. Will the right hon. Lady make it quite clear that we shall be able to discuss any response from the Argentine Government in the House as well as any comment that the Secretary-General of the United Nations may make on the situation?

This will be a critical week for deciding whether a peaceful settlement is attainable. Our ambassador to the United Nations returned, saw Senor Perez de Cuellar and put some proposals to him, to be handed over to the Argentines. I understand that we can expect a reply very shortly—within a matter of a day or so. Therefore, it is a critical week and the Government think that it would be timely to hold a debate later this week. I understand that the matter will be considered through the usual channels.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her response. It is right that the House should have such a debate, in which—I assume—the House will able to judge the propositions for a peaceful settlement before any major escalation of the situation.

No military action can be held up in any way. To do so would be to give notice to the dictator, who is our enemy.

Surely the right hon. Lady has a responsibility to give notice to the dictator that the House has the right to judge such matters before there is any escalation of the situation.

The right hon. Gentleman is constitutionally and practically wrong, and wrong when it comes to regarding the interests of our people in the task force and in the Falklands.

Does the Prime Minister agree that in the absence of any further major developments there will be little point in having a further debate in the House, save, perhaps, to give the Leader of the Opposition a further opportunity to slide away from resolution into a morass of vacillation?

I offered a debate through the usual channels because I believe that this will be a critical week that will decide whether or not a peaceful settlement is attainable. We cannot go on prevaricating. The Argentines are trying to spin out the negotiations. So far, no military option has been closed or held up, and it will not be. However, because I think that this is a critical week it is right to offer a debate.

May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to a report in The Observer, which said that the Argentine Government owes Williams and Glynn's Bank £6 million, and added that if that is not forthcoming it will have to be met by the taxpayers of this country? In other words, we should supply money for destroyers to sink our ships. Does the Prime Minister think that it is about time that she put pressure on the banks and the financial institutions to play their part, or is it far more convenient for them for there to be a loss of life rather than a loss of profit?

I cannot associate myself in any way with what the hon. Gentleman has said. We have frozen Argentine assets in the United Kingdom. The bankers are playing their part, just as everyone else in the country is. I can only condemn what the hon. Gentleman has said.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 18 May.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are many normal, decent people in this country who are not over-zealous jingoists, but who view the antics of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in participating in a march in which there was a banner calling for victory for Argentina, as being, if nothing else, in doubtful taste? Bearing in mind that both he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) were members of a Government who sold ships and planes to the Argentine—

Order. I have said before that the Prime Minister can be questioned only about those matters for which she is responsible.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is political opportunism of the worst order?

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that Governments from both sides of the House have sold weapons and ships to Argentina. He is also correct in saying that the two right hon. Members he has mentioned were members of Labour Governments. I also agree that the attitude that those right hon. Members are taking is out of step with the country, their constituents and even their party.

As those of us in this country know what a determined lady the Prime Minister can be, has she considered at any time the possibility of a face-to-face meeting with the Argentine leader—[Interruption.]—to maximise the opportunities for this last attempt at peace?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who have been life-long supporters of the idea of a European Community have been deeply disturbed by some of the actions of the Council of Ministers over the past 48 hours? Will she make it clear to our partners that co-operation within the rule of law cannot be selective, and that these actions can only give comfort to our enemies and endanger the Community as a whole?

My hon. Friend is referring to the voting that is taking place over the CAP farm prices, in which it looks as if the prices will be implemented by a majority vote. If that is so, it is without precendent. It raises serious issues and we shall be considering what to do under the new circumstances. I do not think that it would be wise to go any further than that at the moment. It may still be possible to pull it back.

Is the Prime Minister therefore rejecting the advice of the Conservative group in the European Parliament, which has supported such a move?

They are as free as I am to express their views. [Interruption.] I did not agree with their views on the Luxembourg compromise.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in circumstances such as these, the hardest thing that people can do is to wait, and contain themselves in patience, particularly when they are not, and cannot be, in possession of all the facts? However, will my right hon. Friend accept that most of us, both inside and outside the House, will keep patience and faith, confident in the knowledge that at the right time my right hon. Friend and her closest advisers will do the right thing?

Now that the Prime Minister is away from the dangerously jingoistic atmosphere of the Scottish Tory Party conference, will she reconsider the attitude that she expressed, that war is more thrilling and more exciting than the welfare of her people?

I have never expressed such an attitude. However, I believe firmly that we have a duty to defend our people from the invader.